Trip Report Ep016: The Rise of the Disco Samurai

For the past year I’ve been making playlists that have ended up becoming sonic journals of the emotions, experiences, and vibes I was feeling each month. Recently I decided to pick up a DJ controller and start turning them into actual mixes. I’ve decided to call this series Trip Report. August 2021’s Trip Report is Episode 16: The Rise of the Disco Samurai.

Love, loss, grieving, healing, wounding, zen. 

The idea for the Disco Samurai came about during the Four Tet DJ set at Nowadays—music and dancing has always acted as therapy for me, but it was especially needed this month. I finally decided to pick up a DJ controller and designate a more active hobby to my love of music to tell my truth and process my life. The persona of the Disco Samurai tied together the healing power of music and dancing with the mental steadfastness and clarity of samurai warriors. One major theme of this month has been the desire to be more unapologetic about my identity and contextualizing my position in the Filipino diaspora. This means doing what I can to de-colonize my brain and reconnect with precolonial indigenous ancestral culture. As any child of immigrants knows, being just one generation removed from your parents’ culture, living in a totally different country from where they grew up, is confusing. In certain spaces and places, my existence has felt invalidated by the intentional or unintentional pointing out of these cultural discrepancies. On a bigger scale, this has been happening to the Filipino people due to decades of colonial influence from Spain, the US, and other Asian countries. The amount of layers removed from that indigenous culture due to time, distance, and colonial erasure has thinned the throughline so much that it barely feels like it exists. This month, I’ve sought to strengthen that link through education, music, and community, finding people and content that also unapologetically celebrate identity and the connection to a pure, true self.

The Disco Samurai ended up manifesting as this narrative of an indigenous Filipino warrior captured by the Japanese, forced to fight as a samurai for his colonizers and eventually removed from his homeland during the (mythological?) 1582 Cagayan battles in the northern Philippines. The 1582 Cagayan battles were a vaguely recorded clash over metals trading between Spanish soldiers/sailors and Japanese/Chinese pirates(/maybe samurai?) in the northern Philippines. Despite being lost and far from his home, the Disco Samurai uses a connection to music to channel ancestral energy and power to cope with the existence of living in an environment that wasn’t made for him. In the same way this character uses soul to deal with the mismatched reality of living in an unfamiliar environment fighting for a cause he doesn’t believe in, I’ve applied this way of coping with life to the modern struggles of mental health, navigating major personal life changes, technological/information overload, and existing in a structurally unsustainable society. Music has been the way I’ve made any sense of the world, and there’s a comfort in knowing that it’s been doing the same for people since culture began. 

I wanted to include any little anecdotes of how these songs found me and came together to form a cohesive narrative in this mix, so check it out and let me know what you think! I’m really excited that I made the decision to allow myself to have a creative outlet that’s both fun and helps me process life, and I’m going to keep putting in the work to grow and get better.

1940’s Filipino WW2 Propoganda poster.
  1. Panoram – The Question | 00:00
    I found this EP while crate digging at Commend on Forsyth St for like $2. I was struck by the cover which features two people hugging in a sea of ferns. This song blew my mind and it felt like a great vibey intro for the more enigmatic themes of this mix.
  2. Madvillain – Great Day (Four Tet Remix) | 02:50
    RIP DOOM. After seeing Four Tet at Nowadays I rediscovered his remix album of Madvillain and loved the samurai-era sound of this one.
Depiction of Wokou Japanese pirates from the 1582 Cagayan battles.
  1. Yaeji – IN THE MIRROR 거울 | 05:35
    Yaeji represents the unapologetic celebration of identity more than any artist I know right now, and I was lucky enough to have the experience of seeing her perform at BRIC Brooklyn and then do a DJ set at Nowadays. Her performance of this song was incredible and made me feel like I was floating; the lyrics hit on a really personal level this month too.
  2. Harrison BDP – Shuto Expressway | 10:17
    I heard this song on one of Yaeji’s NTS radio shows, and the percussive elements were really fun to play with and practice mixing.
  3. Sofia Kourtesis – By Your Side | 11:36
    I must have heard this song on a random Spotify playlist, but I really respect how this artist uses house music as a medium of cultural storytelling from her home of Lima, Peru. Once again, unapologetic celebration of identity that just so happened to blend really well with Shuto Expressway.
Illustration of Lam-Ang, a pre-colonial Ilocano epic hero.
  1. Jayda G – All I Need (DJ-Kicks) | 15:23
    Jayda G is a major inspiration to me: for those who may not know, she got into DJing as a hobby while studying for a master’s in Environmental Management and is now a Grammy award winner. As someone who’s also been in the STEM field but has a deep connection to creativity, seeing what she’s done as an artist has validated my own motivation to get into DJing and really helped me with the idea of “allowing myself” to do it.
  2. International Computer System – Mojave | 19:45
    This song randomly came on Spotify autoplay, but it’s a relatively obscure Italo disco record with a technological spin and terrible search engine optimization. I love how bright and airy it is and how it incorporates more jungle-y/animal noises alongside the weird electronic sounds.
What I see in my mind when I listen to this music and meditate.
  1. Loner – Pagbabago | 24:00
    This is a killer house track from young up and comer from Manila, Loner (Lean Ordinario). The song is about accepting change, which has been a personally prevalent theme for me this month so it hit hard. It was also really important for me to include a Filipino artist who incorporates our culture by singing in Tagalog on a vibey, future-forward house song. 
  2. Night Tempo – Baby | 26:12
    This song is the start of the disco vibes; I found Night Tempo from their cool reworks of Japanese city pop songs and it fit the themes of the mix well with the Japanese influence.
  3. Lyn Inaizumi – Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There | 27:07
    This is the theme song from my favorite video game of all time, Persona 5. For those who don’t know, the general plot of Persona 5 is that a band of high school students awaken a mysterious power that allows them to enter the cognitive psyche of people and become vigilantes to steal malevolent intent from the hearts of adults. It’s a pretty anime plot but the themes and style of the game speaks to me more than any other work of art I’ve ever consumed, so including the disco-y title track was really fitting.
My favorite place in NYC, Nowadays.
  1. Loleatta Holloway – Love Sensation | 28:45
    This is a song I found while exploring the legendary NYC-disco DJ Larry Levan’s tracks he played at Paradise Garage. Her voice is incredible and inspires the soul connection that helps me process life.
  2. Glenda McLeod – No Stranger to Love | 33:48
    I randomly popped into Cityfun Shop in the East Village (band tee and record store) and the worker was playing a track off the compilation “80’s Funk Music Rare Tracks” called Cash Play by Yvette Cason, which I used in a previous mix. This song was also a standout from that compilation and it was fun using a loop of the intro as virtually its own instrument throughout Love Sensation.
Green, purple, and frog vibes are a major theme of this mix.
  1. Deee-Lite – Runaway | 36:42
    I bought a bunch of cassettes in bulk off a guy from Craigslist, and was browsing through them when the cover for the Deee-Lite album Infinity Within caught my eye. I was really taken by the very serious political and climate activism interwoven throughout this very silly sounding album. This band was way ahead of its time, and their story as NYC-based multi-identity (Japanese, Ukrainian, and LGBTQ) club kids that went on to collaborate with artists like Bootsy Collins and Q-Tip is a story that more people should know about.
  2. LSDXOXO – Sick Bitch (VTSS Mix) | 39:45
    I honestly just love this track and it was a good segue into the more carnal themes of this mix. This VTSS remix from HÖR Berlin added a level of drippy bass that was really satisfying.
Indigenous Filipino headhunter.
  1. Black Devil Disco Club – “H” Friend | 41:30
    My friend Emil recommended this track to me and I love how it adds a spookier sound while maintaining the sonic brightness of disco. The mischievous, sinister energy was cool to contrast against the earlier disco tracks.
  2. Kim Petras – Wrong Turn | 43:40
    This one goes out to my friend Valerio who put me on to this song. The dark synth wave sounded really cool against “H” Friend and the lyrics of being lost and amongst evil was a necessary part of building out some of the darker narrative of the mix.
  3. Ao Wu – My Name Edit | 46:08
    This was another track from Yaeji’s NTS radio show that totally blew my mind. It’s off a Chinese compilation called Club Shanzai Bootleg Compilation that has some absolutely ballistic tracks on it. It was a good song to represent the catharsis out of the darker tracks.
  4. Ultra Naté – Free | 49:21
    I found this song from its use as a sample in Ty Dolla $ign’s song Ego Death. I’ve been really feeling the garage house sound that originated from Paradise Garage, and it flowed really well with the previous and next songs.
Opening scene of my favorite childhood video game, Kingdom Hearts.
  1. Utada Hikaru – Simple & Clean -PLANITb Remix- | 51:18
    This song made my childhood. It’s the theme song for Kingdom Hearts, a trippy Japanese RPG video game series I grew up with that paired spiky-hair anime characters with classic Disney characters to fight against darkness using the power of friendship. I genuinely think this series helped define a lot of my values growing up, so the nostalgia factor was powerful and the music just happened to fit really well. 
  2. J.B. Banfi – Gang (For the Rock Industry) | 52:22
    I think this was on a Spotify playlist Four Tet made, but its richly textured cinematic electronic sound was a great lead up to the climax of the mix (and also my favorite part).
Badass indigenous Kalinga woman from the northern Philippines, taken from The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga.
  1. The Pharcyde – Passin’ Me By | 58:09
    I was on a bit of a 90’s hip hop kick and rediscovered this song. I think the production, lyricism and flow on this classic track speak for themselves.
  2. Disclosure, Channel Tres – Lavender | 1:00:43
    I got back into this song after seeing a Channel Tres DJ set and exploring some of his deeper catalog. Slowing this track down to beat match Passin’ Me By was a spontaneous experimentation decision, but it made the track sound soooooo cool. I love how the beat and Channel Tres’ rapping flow so well both sonically and lyrically with Passin’ Me By.
Depiction of Ravana carrying Sita away from the Vanara monkey race in the Hindu epic the Ramayana.
  1. Skrillex, Four Tet, Starrah – Butterflies | 1:07:30
    Chopping up the intro loop on this song just sounded incredibly sick to me. The Four Tet influence on this mix is major and I love the spiritual/exalted heavenly beat of this song allowing it to serve as the penultimate closer.
  2. Vince Staples – Summertime | 1:10:48
    This song, and Vince Staples’ music in general, captures the brutal, surreal, sweltering side of summer. The way this track sounds is kind of a reminder that struggle is never really over, but what matters is that we never stop trying to overcome it. It’s a beautiful, poetic track that ultimately captures everything I’ve been feeling this month in a closing track.

If you made it this far, thanks so much for reading and if any of this speaks to you let me know! I’m always looking for feedback, criticism, thoughts, and connection and knowing that the way I’ve expressed myself has impacted someone else is the only reason I’m putting any of this out. Moving forward I want to keep working on re-mixing the old playlists I’ve made over the past year and I can’t wait to continue exploring the possibilities of melding all of these different outlets and speak my truth. Peace!

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My Favorite Albums of 2020

2020 was a year like no other. For me it was chaotic, emotional, and painful, but it was also a year of reflection, celebration, reconnection, and gratitude. Throughout it all, music helped me process the world. I’ve wanted to do an end of year album writeup for the past few years, but I always made excuses: I’m not a good writer, I don’t have time, no one will care, etc. This year I committed to it and the joy I got out of writing and reflecting on music that means so much to me has already been worth it! I’m not a music critic by any means so this isn’t a music review list; I tried my best to focus on my own experiences and the perspectives I’ve gained from these albums instead. The following is my 100 favorite albums from last year: I’ve included a playlist with my favorite song from each album, listed out albums 100 – 51, wrote short blurbs about albums 50 – 11 (pages 2 – 5), and went way deep for albums 10 – 1 (pages 6 – 15). I hope you can glean something from the words I’ve written about them. If I put even a single person on to a new album that they enjoy, I’ll be happy : – ) So, without further ado…

  1. Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon III
  2. Navy Blue, Ada Irin
  3. Beach Bunny, Honeymoon
  4. Chris Stapleton, Starting Over
  5. Sporting Life, HBCU Gameday
  6. Jhené Aiko, Chilombo
  7. Pop Smoke, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon
  8. Caroline Rose, Superstar
  9. Rico Nasty, Nightmare Vacation
  10. The 1975, Notes on a Conditional Form
  11. Pink Siifu, NEGRO
  12. Disclosure, ENERGY
  13. Purity Ring, WOMB
  14. J Hus, Big Conspiracy
  15. Freddie Gibbs x The Alchemist, Alfredo
  16. Grimes, Miss Anthropocene
  17. Yung Lean, Starz
  18. Chloe x Halle, Ungodly Hour
  19. 21 Savage, Savage Mode II
  20. NNAMDÏ, BRAT
  21. Laura Marling, Song for Our Daughter
  22. Taylor Swift, evermore
  23. Ela Minus, acts of rebellion
  24. Kelly Lee Owens, Inner Song
  25. SAULT, Untitled (Black Is) / Untitled (Rise)
  26. Moaning, Uneasy Laughter
  27. Arca, KiCk i
  28. Gorillaz, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez
  29. Alina Baraz, It Was Divine
  30. Ambar Lucid, Garden of Lucid
  31. SAINt JHN, While the World Was Burning
  32. Thundercat, It Is What It Is
  33. Omar Apollo, Apolonio
  34. Nick Hakim, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD
  35. Khary, THIS IS WEIRD
  36. US Girls, Heavy Light
  37. Deftones, Ohms
  38. Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud
  39. Ty Dolla $ign, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign
  40. Perfume Genius, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
  41. Four Tet, Sixteen Oceans
  42. Princess Nokia, Everything is Beautiful / Everything Sucks
  43. Jessie Ware, What’s Your Pleasure?
  44. Bartees Strange, Live Forever
  45. Kali Uchis, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) ∞
  46. Banoffee, Look At Us Now Dad
  47. Dominic Fike, What Could Possibly Go Wrong
  48. Aminé, Limbo
  49. Mura Masa, R.Y.C
  50. Khruangbin, Mordechai

Tourism vs. Immersion

Growing up traveling, I have experience with several different kinds of trips. I grew up visiting places with my family, but also visiting my parents’ home country of the Philippines. Just comparing those two travel types, I had a very different travel experience in both. When we went to Europe, we were doing popular experiences and seeing well-known sites. However, when we would go to the Philippines, we would stay at my grandparents’ farm in the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya, a rural region of the Philippines. The experiences were completely different—immersion is much more of an “authentic” experience, but tourism is a way to see important cultural or historical sites that many local people may not even know much about. When considering my own travel experiences, I have done a study abroad program in Arezzo, Italy with the engineering program. At that program, I did not become friends with any Italians let alone even really meet any Italians. One thing I’ve noticed with programs such as those based in Arezzo is that it seems like many students use it as a vacation in order to experience being in a different place with other OU students. While that is okay, I personally prefer to see how people of the country live and things that are important to them. In Bhutan, we have had the opportunity to meet many Bhutanese people and talk to them about their lives and thoughts on their country and culture. We have made genuine friendships with many of them, which was something that was never even really offered at the Arezzo program due to the OU in Arezzo campus. Now when I travel I make it an important point to try to talk to as many locals as possible to get a feel for how their experience actually is. While tourism is still fun and can be a great experience, I always think that tourism can be done while immersing oneself in a culture but never the other way around.

Tradition vs. Secularization

It is very interesting how tradition changes over time around the world. Considering traditions in the United States, most holidays do not have any real meaning for most people past a day off work and time to spend with family and friends. Typically, traditions in the United States are ritualistic without meaning—For example, during the biggest U.S. holiday of Christmas, most people celebrate with gift-giving, Christmas music, a tree, and stockings. However, despite the Christian traditional background of the holiday, most people have no idea about why it’s celebrated and many people do not even celebrate any of the religious aspects of the holiday. I could not explain anything religious about the holiday despite my religious upbringing except that it’s supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. At this point, the Christian tradition of Christmas has fallen to the wayside in favor of more secular celebration, and whether or not this is a good thing depends on how important the individual asked considers the religious background of the holiday. In other countries, it has been interesting to compare the role of tradition versus modernization. In Bhutan, it has become a growing issue. Many policies have been put into place in order to ensure that Buddhist principles and traditions stay relevant as the country continues to modernize. However, it can be seen especially in the younger generation that many of the traditions are slowly becoming formalities rather than having historical or spiritual importance. It is important to consider whether or not the loss of the reason for traditions is worth the trade offs that result from the modernization of society.

Multicultural/Diversity & Inclusion Engineering Program

My international group this semester was also the Multicultural/Diversity & Inclusion Engineering Program. It has been bittersweet being involved with the group, as it has been an amazing resource, support group, and way to meet people of diverse backgrounds. The organization has been very helpful, as engineering can not only be overwhelming, but can also make it difficult to have time to meet people besides others in my specific engineering program. Looking back on the importance of the D&I Program, it is evident how important this resource is for people from diverse backgrounds. In comparison to the typically ultra competitive engineering programs, the D&I Program provided guidance from the mentors along with support from other students. Many people from less privileged backgrounds often have to work through college or deal with issues that others may not have to worry about, which made the D&I Program extremely valuable for everyone involved. Since this was my last semester, it was a weird experience leaving an organization that I have been involved with for so long and moving to alumni status. We had a banquet that honored the graduating seniors, and it was very nice having my parents and sister there while I walked on stage. It was amazing to feel such a strong sense of belonging and support because of the D&I Program, and I cannot wait to give back to the organization in the future, as it has given so much to me.

AASA Music Night

This semester, I attended the AASA music night that was held in Beaird Lounge in the Union in collaboration with CAC Concert Series. I really like music, so when I heard about the event I thought it would be a cool way to support musicians who come from an Asian-American background. The event had food and performances from different Asian Americans performing very different things. While I was expecting pretty much everyone to sing, there were some more unique performances as well. The first performance was actually a saxophone player who played everything from popular saxophone songs like Careless Whisper to more modern songs, such as Drake’s Hotline Bling. The performance was very fun and had everyone laughing. The other performances included people singing and playing instruments like guitar and the piano. What I liked most about this event was that I was able to see the different talents that people of similar background to me have. There is an issue of Asian American representation, so going to events such as this one where Asian Americans have the opportunity to present themselves as normal, talented people is awesome and I hope there are more in the future.

The Evolution of Hip-Hop

The Evolution of Hip-Hop

This essay was written for the Expository Writing program class “Poets 2 Rockstars.” It was published in Brainstorm vol. VIII (2016). Brainstorm is the University of Oklahoma Expository Writing Program’s journal of student writing.  All Expo students are invited to submit an essay from their Expository Writing class for possible inclusion in Brainstorm.  At the end of each term, a selection committee will choose 3-5 of these submissions and invite the authors to revise their essays for publication.

Hip-hop, as a cultural force, has grown to mirror the culture it lives in and represents a narrative that had never been represented before in America. Rap, one of the five elements of hip-hop culture defined by Afrika Bambaataa (Aubry) that involves rhyming over a beat, has been highly controversial. One subgenre of rap known as “gangsta” rap still comes under fire today for its hyper-masculine lyrics involving violence, drugs, alcohol, money, and misogyny. The epitome of the “gangsta” rapper was Tupac Shakur (1971–1996), whose poignant and authentic portrayal of life on the streets in the Bronx and Brooklyn earned him unprecedented fame and whose scandalous personal life led to quite a bit of controversy. Tupac’s take on “gangsta” rap defined the hip-hop music industry and popularized the genre with American audiences. Tupac’s music expressed “realness,” an idea prevalent within hip-hop that artists must stay authentic and “true to oneself” (Williams 4). Tupac’s music was also special in the way that audiences could identify with it, especially those who grew up in similarly low-status conditions. This group of listeners, though, was very focused in comparison with the wider audience of hip-hop listeners from all races and backgrounds. Tupac had listeners who enjoyed and sympathized with his music and lyrics, yet they never lived in situations from which they could directly relate to his lived experience. Recently, hip-hop’s sound has been evolving and changing to reflect a different attitude in America. The idea of authenticity plays a large role for hip-hop fans, and, as times have begun to change, the idea of “realness” has been challenged. What constitutes authentic hip-hop, and what does this portrayal mean in terms of hip-hop’s cultural force? The answer lies within the audience—as listeners recognize authenticity, we define the impact that hip-hop artists make and the influence they have on the genre.

Spanish Club Meeting

This semester I attended a Spanish Club meeting. I went to the meeting with my friend who has been studying Spanish since middle school, so he was pretty experienced. I do not currently study Spanish, but I used to study Spanish when I was in elementary school and find it to be a very useful language, especially in the United States. Additionally, growing up I was around Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. Tagalog is very similar to Spanish, so it helps me to understand Spanish slightly. At the meeting everyone split off into tables based on skill level, so I sat with other beginner Spanish speakers. I met different students who were studying Spanish and practicing their own language skills, and even though I didn’t have much experience it was nice to try. After talking for a bit, we played Spanish hangman. It was a fun experience as it exposed me to different Spanish words that I wasn’t familiar with, as I mostly only knew Spanish cognates. It was an interesting time going to a meeting for one of the most popularly studied languages, as students from all different backgrounds wanted to learn Spanish. Even though I haven’t studied Spanish recently, the meeting gave me an appreciation for how useful and important it can be to learn Spanish.